Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Expressing meaning: Meyering

How does a classical landscape convey meaning?



Interest may be leaning away from artworks reflecting the academic tradition, such as Albert Meyering’s etching, Paysage Romain. After all, Meyering’s choice of subject—classically robed figures set in a landscape featuring an antique monument topped with a large urn—along with his perfunctory rendering style and calculated composition is not relevant to a contemporary audience. While not disregarding the important point that this print exhibits aesthetics of the late seventeenth century, the following discussion focuses on key visual devices employed in the print that are still critical for visual communication.



Albert Meyering (1645–1714)
Roman Landscape, c.1695 (described by the British Museum as the eleventh print from a series of twenty-seven showing classical landscapes)
Etching, 237 x 198mm (trimmed sheet) on laid paper

Condition: The print is cut on the plate mark. It is in pristine condition and is not pasted down. I am selling this print for $150 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button.

This print has been sold

First, let us assume that a critical meaning to be negotiated from this image is the common theme of the seventeenth century: the transiency of life (vanitas) symbolised by contrast between the monument—a tomb perhaps?—capping the hillock on the right and the surrounding figures engaged in everyday activities such as picking and carrying flowers. An essential construct in projecting this meaning are the pictorial rhythms connecting the monument with the figures. For example, the standing figure on the left is linked to the monument by gently arcing lines created by the upper and lower silhouette edges of the rock outcrop in the middle distance (see detail below). Rhythm also connects the two figures in the foreground with the monument. Here, the direction that the larger figure faces aligns with the direction of a bowed tree stump that pictorially points to the monument. Similarly, the curving path along which the figure on the far right walks literally connects this figure to the monument.




Rhythms in Roman Landscape, c.1695



These rhythms connect the figures to the monument to allow meaning to be negotiated but there are other visual devices at play as well. One of the more subtle of these devices is contrast of different drawing styles. Meyering uses this contrast to differentiate the external appearance of everyday impermanent reality exemplified by the moving figures and sinuous forms of the trees from the timeless rock-solid reality of the monument. The idea of using different drawing styles for portraying different subject attributes is not unusual; in fact it is one of the fundamental principles of graphic illustration. To project the notion of vanitas, however, Meyering uses curved lines depicting the living reality of organic landscape features juxtaposed with straight hatched lines depicting the inorganic reality of the monument and other non-transient features (i.e. rocks, mountains and distant buildings). In the detail below, for example, the mechanical rendering of the urn in horizontal and vertical marks is framed by the loosely drawn foliage as if Meyering was rendering a hard nut in a flexible kernel.


  Detail of Roman Landscape, c.1695



Communicating the notion of organic life in foliage is not as simple an exercise as drawing what a tree looks like with curving contour marks. There is difficulty in connoting an aura of life even when curved lines are contrasted with mechanically straight lines, as found in the rendering of the monument. The way that Meyering gives the spark of life to his trees is by using different approaches for depicting foliage. In the detail below, for instance, the foliage mass advancing towards the viewer is depicted in light tones while foliage and branches further back are depicted in dark tones. This arrangement separates the tones of the foliage into distinct spatial zones with the front zone showing daylight on foliage set against a background zone showing the shadowy inner core of trunks and branches. Meyering then connects these spatial zones with a bridge of aligned curved marks that describe in space (i.e. “flesh out”) the tree’s interior realms where birds fly through. These are the marks that give the flux of life to his portrayal of trees.



  Detail of Roman Landscape, c.1695
 


Of course, Meyering was not the first to portray trees in this way. The use of tonal zones and connecting marks pictorially carving out negative spaces is a convention dating back to the fifteenth century. Similarly, the way the Meyering codified concrete reality with mechanically straight looking lines (see detail below) was not a wholly original approach. Compare, for example how Claude Lorrain (discussed in my last post) portrayed an earth embankment and how Grimaldi (discussed two posts ago) portrayed a fortress with aligned straight lines.


  Detail of Roman Landscape, c.1695

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Stylistic consistency: Lorrain

What are the recurring attributes to be found in the prints of a genius?

Claude Lorrain (also known by his family name, Claude Gellée, c. 1604/05–1682) is one of history’s great draughtsmen. His line work reveals a surety of touch with each mark showing evidence that it was laid with unhesitating confidence. Moreover, his compositions are a compendium of visual devices that other artists have referenced for ideas over the centuries. 

Like all artists, there is a difference between his earlier prints when he was refining his methods and those created during his artistic maturity. Nevertheless, the early works exhibit many of the same attributes that make his later works so engaging to look at. In the following discussion I will focus on several aspects of his artistic practice that were constant throughout his life by comparing an early print, The Three Goats (c. 1634), with one from his mature years, Shepherd and Shepherdess (c. 1652).

Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée), c. 1604/05–1682)
The Three Goats, c. 1634 (left section of the larger plate, The Goats, c.1630–3, existing in a single impression in the British Museum) printed from the original plate and published in 1816 by J. McCreery for the 200 Etchings folio
Etching, 198 x 130mm (sheet)
Mannocci: 8,4th state (of 4)

Condition: The print is cut on plate mark (as published by McCreery). It is in pristine condition and is not pasted down. The back of the print features a section of a botanical engraving from the 1784 Paris edition of Stirpes Novae (see image below). The trimming of prints and the printing on the verso pages from Stirpes Novae for the 200 Etchings folio is discussed by Lino Mannocci (1988) in The Etchings of Claude Lorrain (p. 28) and by H. Diane Russell (1982) in Claude Lorrain 1600–1682 (p. 300). I am selling this print for $220 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button. 

This print has been sold

Verso of The Three Goats showing a section of an engraving from the 1784 Paris edition of Stirpes Novae



Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée), c. 1604/05–1682)
Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape, c. 1651, printed from the original plate and published in 1816 by J. McCreery for the 200 Etchings folio
Etching, 198 x 257mm (sheet)
Mannocci: 41,7th state (of 7)

Condition: The print is cut on plate mark (as published by McCreery). It is in pristine condition and is not pasted down. The back of the print features a section of a botanical engraving from the 1784 Paris edition of Stirpes Novae (see image below). The trimming of prints and the printing on the verso pages from Stirpes Novae for the 200 Etchings folio is discussed by Lino Mannocci (1988) in The Etchings of Claude Lorrain (p. 28) and by H. Diane Russell (1982) in Claude Lorrain 1600–1682 (p. 300). I am selling this print for $320 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button. 


This print has been sold



Verso of Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape showing a section of an engraving from the 1784 Paris edition of Stirpes Novae
I’ll begin this comparison by discussing Lorrain’s drawing style. The Three Goats shows stylistic consistency of mark making in terms of there being similarity in the types of line used. By this I mean the way that Lorrain draws a goat is not very different to the way he draws a tree or a figure: all are woven into the same web of marks without significant differentiation. This visual democracy of treatment when depicting a range of subjects is summarised by an artist friend of mine who proposed that Lorrain’s stylistic consistency is his “shaggy goat stroke.” Although there are variations in the marks he used in this early print (e.g. the length of stroke is smaller in the rendering foliage and the lines rendering the ground are hatched and longer as seen in the detail below) the inherent gesture of each stroke (i.e. Lorrain’s signature way of making marks) is recognisably his own.



Detail of The Three Goats, c. 1634


To my eye, an essential component of his signature style is the looped curve—not quite to the extent of the return stroke that Mantegna and Pollaiuolo used. This curve in his strokes pictorially “grasps” small areas of space. The phenomenon is the same as created in good calligraphy (especially Oriental calligraphy) where the tiniest flick at the end of a stroke effectively closes around space to suggest form, as can be seen in the detail of foliage below.
 

Detail of The Three Goats, c. 1634

When looking at marks in the much later print, Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape, Lorrain’s style could no longer be termed “shaggy goat.” After all, the handling of each stroke is much more refined and each line serves a role in framing his vision. For example, each mark in the detail shown below of an embankment addresses subtle shifts of contour, tone, texture and spatial depth. Nevertheless, the use of line is still focused on the overall effect—the gestalt of the “big picture”—rather than incidental details. Of course, within this broad view of landscape, there are subtle differences in the treatment of tree, cow and ground. Lorrain’s approach to portraying these differences is an additional constant in his art practice linking his early and late prints. This is the visual approach that may be summarised by the verbal directive: “I want you to look at this but I don’t want you to look at that.”
 
Detail of Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape, c. 1651

An example of how he uses marks in his earlier print to invite a viewer to “look at this” can be seen below in the simplification of the portrayed figure to only two tones: black and a mid-tone created out of a single layer of angled hatching. By comparison, an example of how he averts attention away from areas that he does not want the viewer to look at can be seen in the treatment of the figure’s immediate background: a layering of misaligned marks that approximate the appearance of cancellation marks.

  Detail of The Three Goats, c. 1634



In Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape Lorrain’s approach to inviting and averting a viewer’s gaze is much more subtle. For example, look at the way he uses fine marks in front of the woman’s face. In a pictorial sense they render a patch of light in the background but in a graphic sense they project the idea of conversation in a similar way that a cartoonist might use a speech bubble. Moreover, compare the treatment of these background marks with the much cruder hatched marks behind the man that avert a viewer’s eye from the background and draw attention to him.
 

  Detail of Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing in a Landscape, c. 1651


Saturday, 7 January 2012

Landscape conventions: Grimaldi

What are some of the 17th century Italian landscape conventions?

Over the years I’ve collected a small handful of prints by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi (1606–80) and his etching, Landscape with Three Men Conversing (c. 1650), epitomises all the elements that I find interesting with regard to 17th century Italian landscape prints. My interest lies mainly with Grimaldi’s use of space but there are other engaging aspects to his imagery and in the following discussion I will address three conventions underpinning his work.


Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi (1606–80)
Landscape with Three Men Conversing, c. 1650
Etching, 193 x 194mm (plate); 204 x 205mm (sheet)

Condition: Lifetime impression on laid paper (30mm chain lines). There is light soiling commensurate with age, a 10mm mark (printer’s ink?) on the left, a 5mm tear outside of the plate mark at the top of the sheet and a clipped corner on the bottom right.
Bartsch 43.6 (88)
I am selling this print for $160 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or clcik the "Buy Now" button.

This print has been sold

First on my list is one of the more subtle conventions that Grimaldi employs: portraying spatial depth by tonally lightening the landscape behind a featured subject.  This visual device can be seen where he pictorially bleaches away the landscape immediately behind the mountain shown at the centre of the print. By leaving virtually blank areas of paper, Grimaldi invites the viewer to conceptually “fill in” the blanks abstractly—in the sense of noetic knowledge—with subject matter (see detail below).


Detail of Landscape with Three Men Conversing, c. 1650

Second, Grimaldi applies the Baroque convention of linking key features of the landscape with looped and lively rhythms. For instance, if a viewer were to examine the image commencing with the shattered remains of a tree trunk at the lower right foreground, the line of this dead trunk points to a figure who appears to be drawing water from a fountain shown near the centre of the composition. From the position of this figure, attention is then diverted towards the left along a wooden palisade to three figures conversing at the lower edge of the circular (tondo) format. Again, another rhythm then leads the eye upwards in a clockwise motion to a figure (or two figures?) standing on the lower reaches of the centre mountain. The same rhythm then follows the silhouette edge of the mountain up to a fortress on the mountain crest. This is only one of the many rhythms that link the important features of the composition together and capture the Baroque spirit behind Grimaldi’s style.


Detail of Landscape with Three Men Conversing, c. 1650

Of course the linking of the various features as pictorial stepping stones through the composition is unlikely to be accidental. This brings me to the third convention: the visual language of symbolism. As an example of Grimaldi’s use of symbolism current at his time, the juxtaposition of the dead tree trunk beside the alive and sinuously curving trees in the foreground is an important and often employed vanitas motif in the 17th century. Symbolism also underscores the arrangement of the three conversing figures dressed in classical robes. No doubt for some scholars they represent the Three Graces from mythology. For viewers who do not see this symbolism, however, the arrangement of this group and all the other figures in the composition may have allegorical significance. For example, the relationship of the figures with the signifiers of territorial defences—the palisade and the elevated fortress—may connote the predicament of everyday life with the threat of war.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Sheep legs: Dujardin

How to draw sheep legs


As a boy I was fascinated by the sheep grazing in tall grass depicted in a reproduction of Elioth Gruner's Murrumbidgee Ranges, Canberra (1937) hanging in our lounge room. My inexperienced eyes did not discern sheep but rather I saw their forms as a scattering of anthills. Fortunately my mother pointed out that the anthills were in fact sheep and proposed that Gruner was not good at painting sheep legs and had avoided the problem by hiding their legs in the grass. At this moment I awakened to the idea that sheep legs must be difficult to depict. Although the notion that Gruner couldn’t paint sheep legs is a fiction, there are many issues about drawing that can be addressed by looking at sheep legs.

Karel Dujardin (1622–78) can draw sheep legs and he does this very well as can be seen in his small etching, Recumbent Sheep by a Fence.


Karel Dujardin (1622–78)
Recumbent Sheep by a Fence, c. 1655
Etching, 70 x 95mm
Bartsch: 1.35-1(186)
 
Condition: Good impression on laid paper, trimmed at plate mark with mounting hinges and a collector’s stamp and signature on the back. I am selling this print for $70 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the "Buy Now" button.

This print has been sold

An essential principle that Dujardin employs in drawing the sheep’s foreleg is to use only straight or convex (i.e. bulging out) lines (see detail below). The idea behind this principle is that a leg is formed from bone, muscle and tendon. Consequently, there are no hollows to be drawn with concave lines.
 
  Straight and convex lines in Recumbent Sheep by a Fence, c. 1655

In rendering the light and shade on the leg, Dujardin is careful to add reflected light on the shadow side of the leg (see detail below). This depiction of light bouncing up from the ground was probably not evident when Dujardin was observing the sheep in its real setting but it is needed as a graphic aid to portraying the structure of the leg.
Reflected light in Recumbent Sheep by a Fence, c. 1655
One principle that Dujardin could employ more effectively is how to project the notion of weight in a sheep’s leg. Usually artists add an accent of tone at the points of the silhouette edge where the weight of the leg makes contact with the ground. Going further, the procedure is also to merge the subject with the ground between these accent points. Dujardin has merged the hoof of the sheep with the ground but the accents are not clearly shown. More critical to the drawing of the leg is the indecision about how the leg's upper part rests on the ground. From my standpoint the lack of accents linking this region to the ground makes it levitate. In the detail below I have marked the possible contact points where dark accents could have been left.
 

Giving the suggestion of weight to Recumbent Sheep by a Fence, c. 1655

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Subject integration: Sadeler

How does an artist integrate a subject with its surroundings?




There is a difference between integrating and camouflaging a subject with its surrounding. The idea of integration is to leave space surrounding the subject rather than making the subject appear indistinguishable from the background. The trick—and it is a trick—is to leave a band of empty space (i.e. an area without any imagery or very lightly indicated imagery) on the shadow side of the subject while allowing surrounding background features to abut with the lit side of the subject.


Use of this principle is very evident in the engraving by Johannes Sadeler (1550–c. 1600), Hermit Ciomus, c. 1590. The forest shown behind the distant church dome is darker where it “touches” the lighter side of the dome (the left) while the forest is much lighter and less detailed on the dome’s shadow side (the right). This phenomenon can also be seen in the portrayal of the hermit Ciomus where his surroundings are darker and makes contact on his lit side but are bleached out on his shadow side (see his arched back in the details below).



Johan Sadeler (1550–c.1600)
Hermit Ciomus, c.1590 from the suite Solitudo sive Vitae Patrum Eremicolorum …
Engraving, 175 x 209mm (plate); 190 x 227mm (sheet)
1st state (of 2) before erasure of "25"
Bartsch: 7001.373.S1; Hollstein: 402
 
Note: I have relisted this print with additional information and extended the discussion, see: http://www.printsandprinciples.com/2017/08/johan-sadeler-1s-engraving-hermit.html
  Detail of Hermit Ciomus, c.1590
Detail of Hermit Ciomus, c.1590
 
Many other artists (e.g., Georges Seurat) also use this principle of abutting the immediate surroundings on the lit side of a subject and pictorially separating the surroundings on the shadow side. Paul Klee even coined the term for this shading phenomenon: “endotopic and exotopic treatment.”
 
Integration of subject with its surroundings may also be on a much more subtle level. For instance, in my reading of the image I see a link between the portrayal of the bell clanging in the distant church (see detail below) and the various ways that Ciomus and the other monks respond to the sound. Here the subject is integrated with the surroundings by a visual clue—the bell portrayed in a state of ringing links the hermit and his fellow monks with the church. This notion of sound is a rare element in prints at the time of Sadeler. In a similar way the large number of crosses scattered throughout the image link Ciomus resting on his staff with his surrounding.

Detail of Hermit Ciomus, c.1590
  (Full sheet) Hermit Ciomus, c.1590

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Portraying emotions: Carrière

Why do certain images seem to capture a genuine response to a subject?

There are many reasons why images may appear to embody an authentic response by an artist (i.e. they appear to have "soul"), while others seem to exhibit an artificial display of feeling (i.e. they appear to be fake). For this discussion I will focus on two aspect relating to a print by Eugène Carrière.

First there is the drawing style applied. In Carrière’s intimate portrayal of a mother breast feeding her child (see below), the marks employed are sensuous strokes flowing with the contours of the figures. This style is often referred to as a contour style because the marks match the contours of the subject. Carrière uses this style to render the subject as if he were portraying the mother and child by a sense of touch (i.e. making gentle exploratory marks to establish the figures’ forms by their contours) rather than by applying a more objective and less sensuous rendering style. In short the drawing style is a haptic approach to rendering and the trace evidence seen in his marks projects the authenticity of a genuine response.


Eugène Anatole Carrière (1849–1906) (printed by Bizolier)
Realites ayant la Magie du Rève [Realities with the Magic of the Dream], 1888
Etching and drypoint, 8.5 x 13.8 cm (plate); 11.8 x 17.9 cm (sheet)
Signed in the plate (upper right)

Condition: Rich and rare impression in a pristine condition with original tissue guard. I am selling this print for $265 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the "Buy Now" button.



Detail of Realites ayant la Magie du Rève, 1888

A second reason that this image appears to exhibit genuine feeling is linked to a reduction and simplification of visual features to only those elements that are pivotal to the expressed feeling. For instance, see how Carrière has simplified the image to sets of parallel lines (e.g. note the number of parallel lines that match the angle of the woman’s left shoulder and the parallels that match her upper left arm).


Parallel angles matching that of the woman’s left shoulder

Parallel angles matching that of the woman’s upper left arm


There is also the reduction of information to draw attention to the visual dialogue between the woman and the child. This elimination of extraneous details by the use of chiaroscuro lighting is one of Carrière’s key attributes (I recommend looking at Carrière’s paintings shown on the web). The principle of keeping information to the barest essentials ensures that the meaningful point of the image is projected, which in this image is a loving intimacy between mother and child. A critical component in articulating this relationship is the position of the woman’s hand. Its placement acts like a seesaw’s fulcrum point and balances the size and distance that the woman’s head is from the child.


The position of the hand as a fulcrum point of balance
(Full sheet) Realites ayant la Magie du Rève, 1888

Monday, 2 January 2012

Portraying movement: Turner

How can artists make sailboats appear to be travelling quickly in the wind?

One of the best ways to represent movement of sailing boat on the ocean is to portray the sails as being buffeted by a breeze blowing from the left (as opposed to being blown from the right as shown in the print below). The reason for this is to do with the direction Westerners read—from the left to the right. If an artist wants a subject to appear to travel quickly then the subject should face the direction of the reading’s flow.

Although this information may seem to be at odds with the portrayal of sailing boats in Brunet-Debaines’ delicate etching and acquaint there is a simple explanation for this anomaly. Both Turner and Brunet-Debaines drew their images as a mirror image to the one showing in the print. This is a critical principle that all printmakers need to consider: a printed image is the mirror image of the artist’s line work on the printing plate.

Alfred-Louis Brunet-Debaines (1845–1939)
after Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Boats at Sea in a Breeze, 1876
Etching and aquatint, 11 x 15 cm (plate mark); 17 x 23.5 cm (sheet)
Signed in the plate lower left

Condition: Crisp impression with spot stain outside the plate mark on the left (see below) but otherwise in a pristine condition. I am selling this print for $30 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. If you’re interested in purchasing this print please click the email button at the top of the page or the "Buy Now" button below.



Compare the image above (the printed image) with the mirror image below (the way that Turner and Brunet-Debaines executed their drawings) to see the difference in the perception of speed. Although the mirror image with the sailboats facing to the right may appear to give the boats extra speed, the composition of the printed image with the boats facing to the left does have a positive attribute: the arrangement slows a viewer’s left-to-right reading and helps constrain the rhythms of the composition from sliding out to the right. It also suggests that the boats are struggling against a heavy wind.

  Mirror image of Boats at Sea in a Breeze, 1876

Beyond the discussion concerning the direction the sailboats face, there is another interesting principle for portraying speed in this print. This principle is to leave “empty” pictorial space behind the sailboats (see detail below) and to ensure that there is background subject material featured front of the sailboat. 

Detail of Boats at Sea in a Breeze, 1876

Arguably, the reverse is also true in that movement may also be connoted by using a background that is “empty” in front of the sailboat and “full” of featured subject material behind the boat.

(Full sheet) Boats at Sea in a Breeze, 1876


There are many principles that artists use to express movement. I will discuss more of them in the near future.